University of Denver Game Changers Honored at Founders Celebration
Supporters of the University of Denver gathered on March 1 for the annual Founders Celebration. The event recognizes the 1864 founding of DU by honoring the people and institutions who have left an indelible print on the school and its future. The honorees are presented with the Founders Medal, one of the highest honors bestowed by the University.
This year’s medal recipients are:
- James C. Kennedy (BSBA '70), chairman of Cox Enterprises and former University of Denver Trustee, and Sarah Kennedy.
- Andrew C. Taylor (BSBA '70, Hon. PhD '01), executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings, and Barbara B. Taylor.
- Daniels Fund, represented by Chief Executive Officer Hanna Skandera.
“Every organization has a defining moment, a point in time when mission, quality, aspirations and opportunity combine to influence its course for future generations,” says DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner. “This is the University of Denver’s defining moment.”
The Mountain Campus
Haefner is referring to the University’s game-changing acquisition, the 724-acre James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus (KMC). It makes DU the first university in the country that can offer an urban and mountain educational experience for all students. A $26 million donation by the Kennedys made the purchase of the campus possible.
“I think, like a very fortunate venture capitalist, I came along at the right time,” James Kennedy says. “It was somebody else’s idea, then I was able to supply the resources to make it work.
“When I was at DU, I came to Denver for the mountains and the business school, and they pulled me in different directions. But I thought if you could combine education with the mountain experience, it would be a wonderful differentiator for the University of Denver.”
First-year student Griffin Young of St. Louis, Missouri, introduced the Kennedys at the ceremony and shared his experience at KMC.
“While I chose the University of Denver for many reasons, the outdoors was a huge pull. … Atop that rocky outcropping, I had a moment of realization that all the struggles I had faced in the first few weeks were insignificant in the grand scheme of things.”
The mountain campus amplifies the student 4D Experience: advancing intellectual growth, promoting well-being, exploring character and pursuing careers and lives of purpose. Kennedy’s classmate, Andrew Taylor and his wife Barbara, added a $20 million donation to secure the programming and resources to help KMC meet those goals.
“I saw the mountain campus as a tremendous competitive advantage for the school,” Andy Taylor says. “I truly believe that this mountain campus will be a fabulous part of DU going forward.”
Taylor and Kennedy both value the experience of being in nature and developing a relationship with it.
“When you rise to a challenge in the outdoors that you don’t think you can do, and you accomplish it, you feel better about yourself,” Kennedy says.
Meeting challenges, pursuing careers and living lives of purpose align with the goals of the Daniels Fund, a charitable foundation established by cable TV pioneer Bill Daniels (1920-2000). The fund supports grants, scholarships and ethics initiatives in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. Skandera says in 2021 the Daniels Fund passed the $1 billion mark in donations, with 5,000 students having received its coveted $100,000 scholarship.
“At the end of the day, Bill recognized education was game changing,” Skandera says. “We serve young people, some of whom are diamonds in the rough, a little like he was, who might need a bit of a hand. Many of our scholars are first generation students.”
Daniels’ name is intrinsically tied to DU. It’s his name on the Daniels College of Business, and DU is a top choice for many Daniels Fund scholars. He wanted to build a network of business leaders with a strong sense of ethics and integrity, and aligning with DU to help forward this vision spurred his original donation to the University, Skandera says.
That donation, which was the first of its kind for DU, Skandera says, “became a catalyst and inspired other donors to get involved,” resulting in $69 million for scholarships and grants being donated through the Daniels College of Business. “It’s important to invest in the next generation and make sure they have a solid foundation in ethics and integrity at the same time,” she says.
Giving Hope for the Future
DU ties run deep with all three honorees, as does the desire to see its continued success. Kennedy's generosity has established three endowed chairs in the Morgridge College of Education, fueling excellence in teaching and learning for generations to come. In giving to scholarships, Taylor has supported the educational efforts of more than 500 scholars in the Daniels College of Business. Their most recent philanthropy in support of the Kennedy Mountain Campus extends that vision of holistic education for the benefit of all DU students.
“I just hope [KMC] adds to [students’] educational experience, and it moves them to be more environmentally conscious and think about what they can do in the future to give,” Kennedy says.
Taylor adds, “I always make a joke that it’s good to graduate from a school that got better after you left. As a graduate, I feel like my parents and I made an investment in the school, and we would like the school to be as good as it can possibly be, so we made these further investments in the school, and we have over some period of time. This mountain campus is going to be a fantastic addition to the school and I do believe the school is on an upswing, for sure.”